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Is hydroquinone safe?

Is hydroquinone harmful?

"I read on a blog that hydroquinone will kill you! It's toxic!" 

When it comes to selecting products for your skin, knowledge is power. What is so wonderful about the Internet is that we can simply head to a search engine to look up an ingredient with which we’re unfamiliar and gain more knowledge. This can be a disadvantage, though, as safe ingredients can be vilified online as “toxic” or even “dangerous” when science says otherwise. 

What is hydroquinone?

For those with scars, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation, this ingredient doesn’t just offer hope, it offers visible results. Hydroquinone (HQ), when applied topically, can help to inhibit the production of melanin. It has been proven to dramatically reduce brown spots. This is not a new ingredient with inconclusive research behind it. In fact, it has been used safely for more than five decades. When used properly, it is completely safe. Unfortunately, misinformation has spread fear among consumers who worry about the safety of hydroquinone.

Experts in skincare offer a different view, though. Montclair, NJ dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie recommends using 2% hydroquinone saying that “It works by blocking the hormones that cause the discoloration, and it breaks apart the pigment.” Dr. Downie mentioned something very noteworthy in her recommendation of HQ: the concentration of hydroquinone. This is mentioned in the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association’s position paper on hydroquinone. In this paper, experts state that the maximum allowable OTC concentration of 2% is considered safe.

This paper also addressed concerns over whether this ingredient is linked to cancer, which is a worrisome statement found on many websites. The concerns, according to the ASDSA, have been surrounding oral ingestion of hydroquinone. The report goes on to say that when applied topically, there “have been no reported incidences of cancer from topical application of hydroquinone on humans.” Science simply does not support any speculation of topical hydroquinone at the recommended concentrations being harmful.

A 2010 article on post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology by Erica C. Davis, MD and Valerie D. Callender, MD touches upon the safety of HQ. The doctors mention the concern over oral use of the lightening agent, but are clear that “there have been no reports of skin cancers or internal malignancies associated with topical HQ use.”

Should you be worried about hydroquinone in skincare products?

In a word, no. While there may be some blog posts out there with a bit of fear mongering, science says otherwiseIn fact, if you are one of the millions of people concerned about dark spots, scars or hyperpigmentation, an expertly formulated skincare product like my favorites below. Hydroquinone works quickly unlike other ingredients that can take months of regular use in order to see results. Plus, unlike laser treatments and deep chemical peels, products made with HQ are just as effective, but much less expensive.

Karley's recommendations for products containing hydroquinone

Alpha Skin Care Dual Action Skin Lightener -- Alpha Skin Care is an affordable skincare brand that I recommend wholeheartedly. Formerly known as Alpha Hydrox, the products in this line feature the proper concentration of active ingredients to be effective. While the packaging and textures may not be as swanky as other brands, you can purchase with confidence. I have used their retinol and AHA products and they are ones I consistently recommend. I also personally use this exact product. It has 10% glycolic acid, too, which boosts skin radiance and helps to diminish the look of fine lines.

Paula's Choice Resist Triple Action Dark Spot Eraser is best for oily skin, as it also contains 2% BHA (Salicylic Acid). BHA is oil soluble, meaning that the ingredients can get into your pores and help pull out the bacteria and debris that lead to acne. I recommend this hydroquinone product for oily and acne prone skin types.

Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum is my top pick for those with dull complexions in need of skin brightening, as well as those with dry skin and skin that has fine lines and wrinkles. In addition to featuring an effective concentration of hydroquinone, this one contains  wrinkle fighting peptides and glycolic acid to help brighten, slough away dead skin cells, and minimize the look of fine lines.

*This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase based on clicking these links, I earn a commission. As always, the products I have recommended the past 11 years on this blog, are ones I believe in.